Gosh, I haven't updated here in a while. Some holiday break, right?
So for some reason, it's Webcomics Awards season. Yes, the "controversial" (read: not really) Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards are up and at 'em again. They've moved up the date and decided to scale back their advertising of the awards at the same time. I finally saw one person link a week ago, but as it was in livejournal and I was scrolling through just parsing, I made a note in my head and thought I'd get back to it. After all, I've been voting and nominating in this thing since its conception and they certainly have my email on file from last year, right?
Oh no. And I've always contended that the nominations are the most important part of the awards, since it's hard for people to have some good comics to choose from if no one nominates them in the first place.
But then LO! I email and get a nomination ballot on a quick turnaround and have voted. This is entry is going to have a lot of this: Rant, Good Thing, Rant, Good Thing.
I've always liked the core idea behind these awards. Awards, especially ones "in the industry" do tend to be, well, stupid. And people act very stupid about them. The way the WCCAs are set up, their stupidity is only as great as those nominating and voting. Only creators of webcomics can nominate and vote. So it's our damn fault if Real Life wins for Reality comic.
(Personal disclosure - I've been nominated a few times, and am married to one of the award committee admins, but basically that means I hear things they publically disclose instead of by other means. I happen to agree with pretty much all his stances, except one time last year which I'll get to in a bit. But you should know how intimate (hahaha) I am with this thing.)
Lack of publicity about the awards this year is pretty much my reason for writing here, but I have some other bones to pick on that my husband is probably sick of hearing about.
# 1 - People have trouble nominating for Categories
Oy, categories. These have been the greatest drama generators since webcomics awards were first talked about. It is definitely possible to screw comics out of awards by not giving them a category to shine in, and also to award merit to a subpar comic because people didn't know anything else for the category. And then there are the comics that win in a category because they're good though they don't represent the category at all. See above Real Life, a mostly fantasy comic winning "reality" almost entirely because of the name of the comic. Superosity has been nominated for best superhero comic, a category I can't recall ever having an honest to goodness superhero comic winning, ever. Superhero as a category has been plagued since the first comic to win it was Sporkman, which I cannot even link to, since Mr. John Troutman has done the world a favor and hidden it away. (Disclaimer - I love Trout, but I only read a handful of Sporkman because it buuurrrrrnnnssss. Oh wait, he did link to it again. Ladies and Gentleman, Trout hates you.)
That plus webcomics have responded to the oversupply of superheroes in print by supplying almost nothing of the sort to the internet.
# 2 - Genre categories are hideous
The one point where my husband and I disagreed was last year when Eric Millikin recommended his fabulous comic Fetus-X be considered for best romance comic. I stuck it in my nominees and was astounded that enough people did it to see it make the nominations. Here's another time where the committee acted rashly and then thoughtfully. First they released the nomination results. THEN they considered whether or not to approve Fetus-X in that category. I think my position was like the dark side to Mark Mekkes' idealistic democratic one. Many people thought it should stay. Let the voters decide what the categories mean and whatnot. Me, I thought it was a grand eye opener for people to realize how dumb "Romance" is as a category (which I've been nominated for at least a couple times). You really could justify nominating Fetus-X in the category. My husband prefers a more defined approach to categories and ultimately the committee decided that votes made in jest shouldn't lead to a nomination and withdrew the comic with Eric's consent. But still, kerfluffle.
The idea that people should be able to choose what a category means is often at odds with the fact that people don't always get what the committee intended with a category. Some people want to explain the categories better. I think any category people don't immediately get should be scrapped. These are peer awards. Supposedly people creating comics vote in these, so they should know something. If they don't, drop the category and don't worry about them getting it wrong. Also, way too many people who vote, vote for themselves and are stupid.
Genre categories are doubly hideous because anyone can vote in all of them and some cartoonists don't read comics in certain categories. The Anthropomorphic category gets the brunt of this. VG Cats and Digger have won in this category, as have other comics featuring talking animals that most people don't think of as "furry" comics. Me, when I nominate, I inevitably put in Fight, Cast or Evade. It's one of my favorite punny newspaper style comics and pretty much the only thing I read with talking animals. Many, many other voters think the same way I do.
The way this is handled in other awards, like the Academy Awards for movies, is only people who actively work in a particular field get to vote in it. So since I don't work on a furry comic, I really shouldn't vote in it. But this is much too weird and complicated for something as fun and simple as webcomic awards. I advocate dropping the category.
# 2.5 People are dumb about Genre Categories
Dropping it would also eliminate the complaint from people who do comics that don't fall into various standard genres. The first year, the awards tried giving out an "Other Genre" award. It seemed to work well in terms of the nominees it garnered, but it seemed like such a backhanded complement. I advocate dropping ALL genre categories.
Now I don't say all categories that get complaints should be dropped. I've heard, but don't remember exactly, that one creator is boycotting the awards this year because they moved up their date and he thinks that will make it harder for people to nominate his comic for "Best Newcomer". So? Let's keep some perspective. These are still just webcomics back-patting. There's nothing wrong about giving thumbs up within the creator community (really, there's no community, but whatever), but it's the end all or a great sign of success either way.
# 3 - Too many damn categories
To tie in with all of the above, there really are too many categories. At one point, my husband was reading hundreds of comics. Eric Burns of Websnark reads a ton, more than Frank does now. So they're pretty much the only people even capable of thinking about what comics should win in so many categories.
As someone who reads a few comics and tries very hard to nominate well every year (except this one, obviously) I find it a daunting task. It's even hard to vote, with 4 or 5 nominees per category, and number of categories never dropping behind 20+.
You are not going to get any quality when you make it so hard to vote and nominate. You will get a lot of people entering in their own comic for everything, or their buddies' comics for everything. Why? Not really just favoritism, but laziness.
I've also noticed a swing in "what's important" by what categories change from year to year. This may be of interest to a webcomics historian (hey T!), because it shows how the community responded to flash and "moving" comics (Homestar Runner wins, then the category disappears since no one considers that extreme to still be a comic, only a cartoon), to infinite canvas (category disappears as it becomes more common), and other movements and higlights. While this is interesting, it really does show how silly these categories are that they change to suit what's popular or noticeable at the time. It wasn't as if any of the comics winning these awards weren't already getting notice.
# 4 My recommendations for categories
You might want to take a glance at the current list.
Keep the ur-categories: Outstanding Newcomer, Outstanding Comic, Outstanding Artist, Outstanding Writer. Everyone fits into these, except newcomer, but that's a tried and true category that has worked well.
The subcategories under art and writing should merely be weened down.
Keep for art:
Outstanding Use of Color
Outstanding Black and White Art
They're such classics. I can see dropping both of them and having NO subcategories for art, but 4 categories seems a little short even to me. They pretty much cover it all, and since designing how to work in either can be so radically different, as separate categories they work well.
Outstanding Photographic Comic - This can be color or black and white, correct? Besides, they are so uncommon that people have very little to choose from, which will give perhaps undue notice to certain comics without input of their merit, simply because of how they are composed. Perhaps a "collage" category that includes clipart and other "not drawn" media might pass, but still. It's art that can either be in color or black and white.
Outstanding Character Rendering - (Tangentially, I'm thinking of rendering fat. Sorry. Been making biscuits.) Characters are part of the overall drawing. Why call attention to them? What about comics without characters? It's unnecessary and pretty stupid.
Outstanding Environment Design - Same as Character. I'd like to see this kept in, say, an all Sci-Fi or Fantasy awards. But it's just a part of the color or B&W art, again.
Outstanding Use of The Medium - What? I think this category was meant to replace the infinite canvas and other experimental awards. I think, however, that it makes NO SENSE WHATSOEVER, especially thusly named. Anything falls into this cateogry as is, making it exactly the same thing as Outstanding Artist. Maybe a "Outstanding Creative Use of the Medium" would get the point across, but even so, who is to say you can't be creative within a comic book page style? (Oh hell yeah you can!)
Outstanding Website Design - While there are some amazing website designs that really enhance the comic they contain, I think this is much too like "Best Lighting Design", where the average person isn't going to realize what's so good about certain things. I wrote a whole column on website design for comics I haven't published, so yeah, I'm in the camp that thinks it know something about websites and I really, really think this award has never worked and that's why it should go, not because website design isn't important.
Outstanding Layout - I'd take this as the real replacement for infinite canvas, since it actually refers to how the comic is presented. It can also cover website areas, since it is about presentation of a comic on the internet. Layout wouldn't discriminate against any comic, as every comic is laid out in some way. Forget the debate, it's a keeper. But I'm too lazy to go back and edit what I just wrote to adjust for that decision. Sorry!
Keep for writing:
Outstanding Long Form Comic - This category has worked well, and since there is a big difference between how long form comics are even read over the internet, what with the immediate delivery, but pages being required to be read in sequence, I feel it should have the attention.
Outstanding Short Form Comic - Classic and it's worked well. Voters seem to get the difference between it and long form, and also feel free to nominate things in both categories that blend between the two, but lean to one side or the other, like long form comics told in newspaper strip format, which they include in long form. It is under writing, which explains a lot to the voter. Short form fits comics, even if told in multiple panels in ways other than a newspaper strip, that don't actually have ongoing story.
Outstanding Character Writing - What's so important about the characters? Seriously, there is good character writing out there, but do you balance this with a "Outstanding everything else other than Character Writing, including gags, puns, Far Side style, philosophy, slice of life, etc"?
Outstanding Comedic Comic - and
Outstanding Dramatic Comic - For a long, long, long time in literature, plays, and all forms of entertainment and storytelling, the distinction between these two has become downright stupid. Yes, the distinction is stupid. I have no other way to describe it.
Outstanding Single Panel Comic - I can see a place for this alongside Long Form and Short Form, despite it obviously falling into short form. The single panel comic is a classic. It also follows vastly different rules for making a comic. It's not even "sequential art", having no sequence. I can see it remaining, but I don't see a problem if it's cut. But, might as well keep it.
# 5 - GENRE AWARDS MUST DIE
Cut them all:
Outstanding Anthropomorphic Comic
Outstanding Fantasy Comic
Outstanding Gaming Comic
Outstanding Slice-of-Life Comic
Outstanding Romantic Comic
Outstanding Science Fiction Comic
Outstanding Superhero/Action Comic
There is too much they don't cover and not enough justification for keeping any of them. Perhaps we could see in the future a fan group of all Sci-Fi comics voting for their favorites in the genre, but that wouldn't be the WCCAs.
This is on my ballot. Notice I didn't fill in the genre slots, either.
# 6 - The WCCA Committee
I absolutely must add some part about an internal debate in the awards. That is, should members of the committee, who vote on such decisions as what awards to include, be allowed to vote/nominate their own comics/accept awards for their own comics. Ever since the awards began, I know that Mark Mekkes has turned down any votes his own comic, Zortic, was given. When my husband joined in to help, even if it was just counting nominations under the old system, he turned down votes for his comic Framed!!!, even though he knew from counting the nomination votes it would have gone on to the next round of voting. During this time he didn't nominate, despite being qualified as I mentioned above, but did vote, since the final votes were automatically counted. He has campaigned that no one on the committee can nominate or can accept any votes for their own comics, which seems super sensible, but only the admin committee has agreed to do so. Regular members of the committee are allowing themselves to be portrayed as conflicted over their own interests and with a definite stake in what categories are used.
I'd also like to mention, thanks to a comment from Frank (who is currently tiling our bathroom), the registrar Mike Payne, who took over the job from Frank, has been excellent. I should probably apologize publically for ranting at him when I emailed to be registered for voting, since I thought I had just missed the nomination round, and all I could find on the website was a random email with no name attached. It was his, I found out later, but yeah, sorry for being mean, but it wasn't user friendly there. Mike was very nice and super professional and fast at getting back to me.
Mark Mekkes deserves a little more praise, too. He basically started the whole awards. They're his dream and he's realized them. Throughout criticism and contemplations of juried awards, he's kept a group of people working to actually get them done, instead of just complaining and ranting and theorizing.
Actually, pretty much everyone involved has done very good work for a much criticized (including by me!) and dramatized awards for which they get nothing. I can see why some would want to be able to at least win an award if other people vote for them, but the awards would have much more credibility if they would abstain from the nominating rounds and decline nominations.
# 7 Keep Making it Better, Folks
The awards have vastly improved every single year to be more noticeable, more relevant, and all around better. It's easier to vote and nominate. But they have to keep improving.
The website is better, but still difficult to navigate and find out information. Like above where I found an email to ask to be registered, but no idea of whose email it was or what information I should include with my request. Perhaps it's a no-brainer to include your name and what comics you do, but people on the internet do often need things spelled out and I'm sure that would make it easier on the registrar.
Really advertise this thing, too. Especially if you're moving it and it's around vacation times. I was not paying attention to the internet much this first half of this month. There was also no "registration time" before the nomination time.
I just mailed in my nominations and have to say using an excel sheet was even easier than last year's process, I only hope they don't mind I use Open Office or have any problems with people who don't have microsoft office.
And WHEW! I think I'm good. I really wish this had been a post with who I nominated and why, showing off some awesome comics. But it isn't. It's something else entirely.